23 June 2015

Flush With Cash, Running on Empty


The High Cost of the Military Technical Revolution

One of the never ending claims made by proponents of the military technical revolution is that emerging complex weapons technologies create more combat power per unit of labor — that we are substituting capital for labor and technology-intensive capital goods are the key America’s competitive advantage, given America’s high cost labor.  This claim is bullshit pumped out by a sound-byte addicted Military - Industrial - Congressional Complex.
For readers who think my rhetoric excessive, consider please the following  series of graphics.  That the revolution in military affairs (RMA) continues with increasing intensity despite such evidence to the contrary, and without substantive critical debate, says a lot about the dominant values in Versailles on the Potomac.
If the claim made by the RMA evangelicals were true, then a percentage reduction in the size of combat forces would be accompanied by a greater percentage savings in defense budgets. But as this table shows, huge reductions in force size (ranging from 56% to 69%) from the spending peak of the Vietnam War (1968) to the spending peak of the so-called Global War on Terror or GWOT (2010) have been accompanied by a 34% increase in the defense budget, after removing the effects of inflation (using DoD deflators which are biased to reduce the size of this disconnect).


Yet, as the next figure shows, compared to Vietnam, the GWOT is a tiny war, when compared in terms of troops deployed or operational tempos (e.g., total attack sorties).


Moreover, despite the GWOT's small size and low operating tempos, the next figure shows that, after removing the effects of inflation, the  GWOT is already by far the second most expensive war in U.S. history going back to the American Revolution — it already exceeds the cost of Viet Nam by a factor of 2, and because the GWOT has mutated into perpetual war, there is no end in sight, and like Viet Nam, there is also no light at the end of the GWOT’s victory tunnel.


The net result of  the economic impact of the ongoing military-technical revolution can be seen in the next figure, which places President Obama’s current budget plan in a historical perspective in both current dollars and two estimates of inflation adjusted dollars (the first assumes that inflation affects the Pentagon in the same way as it effects the entire economy and the second uses the Pentagon’s biased inflation index which conveniently makes current budgets look like a far smaller departure from past budgets):



One would think the end of a Cold War with a nuclear-armed superpower and the massive force structure reductions that have taken place over the long term would have some effect on the pattern of boom-bust Pentagon spending dynamics — but they did not, except to raise both the ceiling of the boom phase and the floor of the bust phase. 
  
The bottom line should be clear to even the most casual observer:  The claim that the ongoing military-technical revolution reduces costs by substituting capital for labor is fact-free claptrap.  Moreover the hype about this military-technical revolution, which has became ever more hysterical since the mid-to-late 1980s, has been accompanied by a dramatic worsening of the mismatch been promises and reality.

Perhaps the apotheosis of the cost and labor saving dimensions of the military-technical revolution has been the evangelical rhetoric surrounding the use of “labour saving” unmanned airplanes — drones — in the GWOT. I urge readers in denial about my bottom line to carefully study How America Broke Its Drone Force by David Axe in the Daily Beast (attached below for your reading convenience).  Axe describes how the high cost of labor-intensive drone operations has broken the back of the drone force to such a point that it had to cut back operating tempos in the face of the increasing intensity of the offensive campaign waged by ISIS.

Bear in mind, the pathetic misery in the drone force described by Axe coincides with Era IV of the boom bust cycle in the preceding chart of Defense Spending. 

09 June 2015

Announcement


Long time readers of the Blaster are familiar with strategic theories of Colonel John Boyd (new readers will find a variety of references to them at this link).   I am pleased to announce that Marine Major PJ Tremblay’s thesis, Shaping and Adapting: Unblocking the Power of Colonel John Boyd's OODA Loop, has won the The Colonel F. Brooke Nihart Writing Award for 2015. 

This award is endowed by Colonel and Mrs. F. Brooke Nihart, USMC (ret), and presented in honor of the late Colonel Nihart to the Marine infantry officer at Command and Staff College whose Master of Military Studies paper demonstrates the greatest depth of scholarship, clarity and originality.  In my opinion, Major Tremblay has made a significant contribution to the growing corpus of analyses and writings aimed at fleshing out and evolving Colonel Boyd’s ideas.  

Tremblay's thesis was written in partial completion of a masters degree, and I think it  provides an excellent and readable introduction to the use of Boyd's OODA Loop as a frame of reference for examining the tactical level of combat.  Tremblay goes further, however: he introduces general frame of reference for incorporating Colonel Boyd’s ideas more effectively into the Marine Corps education system, from junior to senior levels and from the tactical to the strategic level of combat.  Tremblay actually used Boyd's ideas in both the planning and execution of a stunningly successful tactical assault by a reinforced infantry company in Afghanistan. 

05 June 2015

Cognitive Reality of Strategic Bombing


High Value Targets Exist in the Eye of the Beholder

Few people appreciate that the leadership liquidation strategy of the drone war is merely old wine in a new bottle.  It is a logical extension of the strategic bombing doctrine developed in the 1930s and first executed in WWII.  This doctrine posits that target analysts located far from the scene of action can identify the critical nodes in an adversary’s infrastructure which can then be taken out in a systematic program of precision attacks.  This central premise of strategic thinking has remained unchanged from the identification of ball bearing factories in Germany by the Combined Services Targeting Committee during WWII to the picking of individual terrorists to be killed by precision drone strikes in the Global War on Terror (GWOT), based on the analysis of the “signatures” emitted by these terrorists by the members of President Obama’s NSC kill list panel.  This CIA report will give the reader access to some of the banal considerations the CIA purports to use — or says it should use — in the thought process that identifies and picks the individual “high value targets” — i.e. those individual people who must be liquidated — in its targeted killing strategy.

Yet, the central feature of every strategic bombing campaign is that the number of targets in the master target lists purporting to map these critical nodes always grows wildly once the bombing begins; a phenomenon that suggests the node may not have been so critical to begin with.*  The target proliferation phenomenon has held true regardless of the level of precision in the bombardment. It can be seen in every so-called “strategic" bombing campaign to date, regardless of how the nodes have been defined:  WWII, Korea, Viet Nam, Gulf War I, Kosovo, and Gulf War II, and the GWOT (where the analysis of critical nodes reaches its reductio ad absurdum of indentifying those specific individuals who must be destroyed.)  

Attached below are excerpts from a recent report, Germany's Forgotten Victims, in the Guardian that reminds us of how this mentality can mutate into the blind butchery of carpet bombing, as happened in the case of the RAF’s night bombing of Germany in WWII** 
———— 
* One possible theoretical exception might have been the Single Integrated Operational Plan (or SIOP) which laid out the target base and weapons laydown for nuclear strikes on Soviet Union during the Cold War.  By the mid-70s, we had far more nuclear warheads than targets and there was no hope of growing the SIOP target list to the point that it was large enough to absorb all the weapons — consequently there was a lot of unnecessary double and triple targeting of even unimportant targets to use up the available nucs.  Fortunately, this possible exception to the target proliferation rule was never tested.

** The RAF night bombing campaign is certainly one of the three candidates for being the most imprecise, most pointless, and most murderous strategic bombing campaigns ever attempted.  The other contenders being the USAAF fire and atomic bombing of Japanese cities and its fire bombing of North Korea’s cities).


Germany's forgotten victims
Luke Harding explains why a new book on the allied bombing of German cities in the 1940s has created controversy
Luke Harding, Guardian, Wednesday 22 October 2003 20.03 BST
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2003/oct/22/worlddispatch.germany
More than half a century on, the allied bombing of Germany's cities during the second world war remains a controversial topic.
On Wednesday, Britain's ambassador to Germany, Sir Peter Torry, travelled to the city of Kassel to mark the 60th anniversary of its destruction by British warplanes. Around 10,000 people died on the night of October 22 1943, when an immense firestorm swept the city. …
…  Last week, one of Germany's most controversial historians, Jörg Friedrich, published a new photo book about the issue. Called Brandstätten, or Fire Sites, it contains some of the most grisly images from the war ever to be published. None of them have been seen before. …
… In his book, Friedrich argues that the RAF's relentless campaign against Germany during the final months of the war served no military purpose. Instead, he says that Winston Churchill's decision to drop more bombs on a shattered Germany between January and May 1945, most of them on small German towns of little strategic value, was a war crime. …
…  Around 600,000 German civilians died during the allies' wartime raids on Germany, including 76,000 German children, Friedrich says. In July 1943, during a single night in Hamburg, 45,000 people perished in a vast firestorm. …
”If you destroy a landscape of 160 cities, most of medieval origin, you do something to the cultural identity of a people. All I do is describe it," he said. …
… His book recognises that Germany initiated the air war in the autumn of 1940, when 14,000 British civilians died in German raids launched from the French and Belgian coasts.
It was only in the summer of 1943 that Britain's air marshal Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris was able to respond. At first, RAF bombers were sent out in daylight to attack military targets, but a loss of aircraft forced a change in tactics.
The RAF began to bomb German cities during the night, an indiscriminate strategy causing huge civilian casualties. The attack on Hamburg, however terrible, could be justified on the grounds that the city was the centre of German submarine production, Friedrich concedes.
But, he argues, other raids on smaller, provincial towns could not. On February 16 1945, British bombers attacked the tiny town of Pforzheim, killing one-third of its 63,000 inhabitants.

In the official British history of the air war, Pforzheim merits only a footnote, despite the epic scale of the slaughter. "The RAF had run out of targets. The raid was most cruel," Friedrich says.

02 June 2015

Meet the New Israeli Government


After lurching to the right to “win” the parliamentary election in Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu has assembled the fruits of his victory: a new government with the smallest possible majority in Knesset (61 out of 120 seats). Just under half of the new government consists of Netanyahu’s right wing Likud party (30 seats).  The remainder is made up of the vaguely centrist Kulanu party and three fanatical or religious hard right parties (Jewish HomeShas  and United Torah , together with a hydra of competing domestic agendas that are shaping the competition to control the various ministries.  While the members of this coalition are loosely united on  the Palestinian Question (no 2-state solution), the incompatible domestic agendas are a prescription for paralysis, because a threat by even the smallest party to leave the coalition becomes a threat to the government’s existence.

This commentary by veteran Middle East reporter Jonathan Cooke’s paints a collective portrait of the kind of people who are winning the competition of power in Israel’s latest and greatest kludge of a government:  
  • Tzipi Hotovely: Shares oversight of Foreign Ministry - “The basic truth” … [is] … “All the  land is ours.”
  • Dore Gold: Shares oversight of Foreign Ministry - Deeply opposed to Palestinian statehood, close confidant of Netanyahu.
  • Moshe Yaalon: Defense Minister - planned to create separate buses for Jewish settlers and Palestinians (cancelled by Netanyahu); also suggested Israel should follow US example of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and nuke Iran.
  • Sivan Shalom: Minister in charge of talks with Palestinians -- Publicly rejects 2-state solution and advocates aggressive settlement building
  • Eli Ben Dahan: Deputy Defense Minister - leading settler rabbi who has referred to Palestinians as being “sub-human.”
  • Ayelet Shked: Oversees justice system — spoke in genocidal terms against Palestinians in Gaza las summer.
Unlike Netanyahu's previous right wing governments, Cooke notes, the current one has no cosmetic moderate to soften the international image of Israel. 
Cook predicts that President Obama’s policy for dealing with Israel’s lurch to the right — i.e. to orally signal disquiet, while showering Israel with weapons, aid, and political cover in international fora — will continue with the new government.
The good news is that it is hard to imagine the new Israeli government lasting very long.  The bad news is that the new government reflects the deep seated nature of Israel’s lurch to the right, particularly with respect to the Palestinian Question.  Should it fall, the successor government, perhaps with a larger majority packaged as a government of national salvation, may be even more fanatical and self-righteous on the Palestinian Question than this one.  
Moreover, such a development would probably enjoy continued encouragement by the United States, because effete as it is, Obama's Israeli policy will be viewed as being too hard on Israel by all of the leading candidates for President of both parties during the run up to the US election in 2016.

Why Israel’s cabinet will be a headache for the US
Jonathan Cook, The National (UAE), May 28, 2015 
http://www.thenational.ae/opinion/comment/why-israels-cabinet-will-be-a-headache-for-the-us
Only a few weeks into Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government, the intense strain of trying to square its members’ zealotry with Israel’s need to improve its international standing is already starkly evident.
The conundrum was laid out clearly by Tzipi Hotovely, a young political ally of Mr Netanyahu’s recently appointed to oversee the foreign ministry on his behalf.
She called together the country’s chief diplomats last week to cite rabbinical justifications for taking Palestinian land. Her broader message was that Israeli embassies abroad needed to stop worrying about being “smart” and concentrate instead on being “right”.
Urging the country’s envoys into a headlong confrontation with the world community, she told them the “basic truth” was: “All the land is ours. ... continued

20 May 2015

Madison's Farce in the Post Information Era (II)


My previous posting questioned the mass media's hysterical ‘shoot-the-messenger’ response Seymour Hersh’s blockbuster outing of the Obama Administration’s lies about its liquidation of Osama bin Ladin in a long essay in the London Review of Books.  
My main point was,  “In an ideal world, Hersh’s report would trigger more investigative journalism to verify or refute his facts and assertions.”  
Shooting the messenger is what bureaucracies, like those in the Pentagon, the CIA, or the State Department, routinely resort to when faced with information that disputes their party line.  That the popular press is behaving in the same way is truly frightening.
The act of shooting the messenger, and the intimidation that goes along with it, protects those factions in government with a vested interest in the partly line status quo, and is one reason why people at the top of hierarchies become isolated from reality and do dumb things (see Inside the Rat’s Nest for a description of how this kind of isolation operation works in the Pentagon).  Think about how a ‘shoot the messenger mentality’ in the popular media shapes the outlook of people who, to paraphrase Mr. Madison, need to arm themselves  with the knowledge to hold their representatives in government accountable for their government’s actions:  It creates a wilderness of mirrors that disarms the people and is therefore a threat that is aimed at the heart of what is left of the American republic
All is not lost, however.  Attached herewith is an excellent example of how that ideal world might look.  The author, my friend Gareth Porter, who in addition to Hersh is one of the few really good investigative journalists left in Washington, confirms most of Hersh’s report, but he adds a new wrinkle.  
Porter argues that Hersh’s account of the Pakistani “walk in”  who revealed bin Ladin’s hideout is problematic and may itself be a CIA plant of disinformation.
Porter’s analysis, however, does not the change the implications posed by the central question of how the Obama Administration learned of Osama’s location.   And it is a very important question, because it goes to the heart of the justifications for torture and the spying operations of NSA, particularly its meta data tracking capabilities, that have tarnished the US image abroad and are threatening our civil liberties at home. 
In my opinion, Porter reinforces the implications of Hersh’s horror story by digging further into the complexities of the US-Pakistani relationship.  I urge you to carefully read it. 

THE MISFIRE IN HERSH'S BIG BIN LADEN STORY
Monday, 18 May 2015 00:00 By Gareth Porter, Truthout 
[posted with permission of the author]
Seymour Hersh's story on the raid that killed Osama bin Laden has exposed a series of Obama administration claims about the raid, including the lie that it was not intended from the first to kill bin Laden and its fanciful story about Islamic burial of his body at sea. Hersh confirms the fact that the Obama administration - and the CIA - were not truthful in claiming that they learned about bin Laden's whereabouts from a combination of enhanced interrogation techniques and signals intelligence interception of a phone conversation by bin Laden's courier.
But Hersh's account of a Pakistani "walk-in," who tipped off the CIA about bin Laden's location in Abbottabad, corrects one official deception about how the CIA discovered bin Laden's location, only to give credence to a new one.
Hersh's account accepts his source's claim that Pakistan's intelligence agency ISI had captured bin Laden in 2006 by buying off some of his tribal allies and that ISI had moved him to the Abbottabad compound under a kind of house arrest. But there are good reasons for doubting the veracity of that claim. Retired Pakistani Brigadier General Shaukat Qadir, who spent months investigating the bin Laden raid and the bin Ladens' relocation to Abbottabad, interviewed a number of people in the neighborhood of the bin Laden compound and found no evidence whatever of any ISI presence in guarding or maintaining surveillance of the compound, such as described by Hersh's source.
This writer published a detailed account of the background of bin Laden's move to Abbottabad at Truthout in May 2012, based on months of painstaking research by Qadir, which showed that it was the result of a political decision by the al-Qaeda shura itself.
Qadir, who has never had any affiliation with ISI, was able to contact Mehsud tribal sources he had known from his service in South Waziristan many years earlier who introduced him to Mehsud tribal couriers for a leading tribal militant allied with al-Qaeda before and after 9/11. He was able to explain why a key al-Qaeda official in charge of relocating bin Laden actually considered Abbottabad, a military cantonment where the Pakistani military academy is located, a better hiding place than a city closer to the northwest Pakistan base area of al-Qaeda.
Qadir also learned that the secrecy of bin Laden's new location was based on the fact that no one outside the al-Qaeda inner circle knew the real identity of bin Laden's courier, who ordered the construction of the compound in 2004. That whole history, which Qadir was able to reconstruct in painstaking detail, belies the story that Hersh's source, the "retired senior intelligence official," told him about bin Laden being held captive by ISI in Abottabad.
The story has provoked pushback from the deputy director of the CIA at the time, as well as from Qadir. Michael Morell, the former deputy director, has called the story "completely false" and added, "No walk-in ever provided any information that was significant in the hunt for Osama bin Laden."
Qadir had picked up the walk-in story - complete with the detail that the Pakistani in question was a retired ISI officer who had been resettled from Pakistan - from American contacts in 2011. In his own book, Operation Geronimo, Qadir comments, "There is no way a Pakistani Brigadier, albeit retired, could receive this kind of money and disappear …"
Qadir also learned from interviewing ISI officials that, by mid-2010, they had become suspicious about the owner of the Abbottabad compound, of a possible terrorism connection, as a result of what began as a routine investigation, although they did not know that bin Laden was there. Five different junior and mid-level ISI officers told Qadir they understood Pakistan's Counter Terrorism Wing (CTW) had decided to forward a request to the CIA for surveillance of the Abbottabad compound in July 2010.
So CTW's provision of that crucial information to the CIA would have occurred just about the time Hersh's source says the walk-in took place.
Hersh's account of the walk-in, offering to tell the CIA where bin Laden was in return for the $25 million reward, is problematic for other reasons. If the walk-in source had been able to provide a reasonably detailed explanation for how he knew bin Laden, was in that compound and had passed a polygraph test, as the source claims, President Obama would certainly have been informed.
But the former senior intelligence official told Hersh that Obama was not informed about the information from the walk-in until October 2010 - two months after the CIA allegedly had gotten the information from the walk-in.
Furthermore both Obama and the "senior intelligence official" who briefed the press on the issue on May 2, 2011, made statements that clearly suggested the information that had helped them was much more indirect than a tip that bin Laden was there. And both indicated that it was a result of Pakistani government cooperation.
The senior intelligence official told reporters that "The Pakistanis ... provided us information attached to [the compound] to help us complete the robust intelligence case that ... eventually carried the day." That is very different from telling the CIA that bin Laden had been taken captive by the ISI and deposited in Abbottabad.
And Obama was explicit about the information coming through Pakistani institutional channels in his remarks on the night of the raid. "It is important here to note," Obama said, "that our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound he was hiding in."
No plausible reason can be offered for those remarks, except that ISI's counter-terrorism wing (CTW) actually did provide specific information related to the Abbottabad compound that led the CIA to begin intensive satellite surveillance of the compound.
Finally the story of the "walk-in" and the $25 million reward going to the individual is a story line that serves the interests of some high-ranking CIA officials - including then-CIA Director Leon Panetta - who had come to view ISI as the enemy because of a cluster of conflicts that involved suspicions about its protecting bin Laden, as well as ISI restrictions on CIA spying in Pakistan; the detention of CIA contractor Raymond Davis for shooting two Pakistanis; and finally, ISI complaints about US drone strikes. The CIA had increased its unilateral intelligence presence in Pakistan tremendously in 2010-11, and ISI demanded that the increase be rolled back.
In January 2011, CIA operative Raymond Davis had been arrested for killing two Pakistanis who had apparently been tailing him, and the CIA had put intense pressure on the ISI to have him released. Then on March 17, one day after Davis had been released thanks to the intervention of ISI chief Shuja Pasha, the CIA had carried out a drone strike on what was supposedly a gathering of Haqqani network officials, but it actually killed dozens of tribal and sub-tribal elders who had gathered from all over North Waziristan to discuss an economic issue. A former US official later suggested that the strike, which had been opposed by then-Ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, had been carried out then because the CIA had been "angry" over the detention of Davis for several weeks.
The Pakistani military had been angered, in turn, by the March 17 drone strike, and Pasha had then gone to Washington in April 2011 with a demand for a Pakistani veto over US drone strikes in the country.

That summer, as tensions with the Pakistani military continued to simmer, someone began talking privately about ISI's complicity in bin Laden's presence in Abbotabad. The story was first published on the blog of R. J. Hillhouse on August 8, 2011, which cited "sources in the intelligence community."

19 May 2015

Madison's Farce In The Post-Information Era


The media’s disgraceful reaction to Seymour Hersh’s bin Laden Report

By now, most readers have heard of Seymour Hersh’s latest tubesteak in the London Review of Books.  Hersh outed the Obama Administration’s lies surrounding the killing of Osama bin Ladin in a 10,000 word report.  For readers who have not yet read the Hersh report, Jeffrey St. Claire, editor of Counterpunch, penned an excellent summary as a lead in to an essay written by the late Alexander Cockburn, who criticized the Obama Administration's story about the liquidation of bin Ladin only four days after the event.  St. Claire’s point was not to criticize or diminish Hersh’s work, but to remind people that questions about bin Ladin’s liquidation arose from the get go.  Rumors have been swirling for years, but it was Hersh has put together the most coherent story yet published.  That makes his report worth a careful study and analysis.
In an ideal world, Hersh’s report would trigger more investigative journalism to verify or refute his facts and assertions.  Yet despite its obvious importance, as Trevor Timm cogently explains in the Columbia Journalism Review, the mainstream media’s reaction to the Hersh report has not been to dig deeper, but to shoot the messenger. Vitriol from his fellow reporters is not new to Hersh.  As Mark Ames recalls in Lapdogs Redux, Hersh
“… got the same hostile reaction from his media colleagues when he broke his biggest story of his career: The 1974 exposé of the CIA’s massive, illegal domestic spying program, MH-CHAOS, which targeted tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of Americans, mostly antiwar and leftwing dissidents …” 
But Ames also reminds us, Hersh was able to write in the New York Times on 15 January 1975 that William E. Colby,* the director of the CIA, admitted* in a Senate hearing that …
“… that his agency had infiltrated undercover agents into antiwar and dissident political groups inside the United States as part of a counterintelligence program that led to the accumulation of files on 10,000 American citizens.”
The mainstream media’s reaction reminds me of bureaucratic behaviour in the Pentagon (and also in climate science) that instinctively occurs whenever someone identifies problems with the consensus “party line,” or in the sterile language of newspeak, whenever one posits a new “narrative" in place of the consensus “narrative."  
This kind of group-think is very dangerous stuff when it comes to the mass media, because as James Madison implied** almost 200 years ago, the integrity of the Fourth Estate (the quest for knowledge not narratives) is a necessary condition for maintaining the vitality of the American concept of a republic based on the theory of representative democracy:  
“A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”  -  James Madison, from a letter to W.T. Barry, August 4, 1822
But as one Pentagon wag opined to me in the early 1980s in reaction to my work analyzing the collective delusions embodied in the Plans/Reality Mismatch,  ‘You have shown how the Pentagon is always a step ahead of society.  People talk about the revolutionary implications of the information era, but we have already moved to next rung of progress — Welcome to the Post Information Era.'
——
* Colby denied “massive” illegality in the Agency’s spying on 10,000 American Citizens
** Madison was talking about popular education, but the point is universal and self-evidently applies to the mass media

14 May 2015

The Constitutional Implications of Using Drones to Liquidate American Citizens


Stalin liquidated his adversaries in the Lubyanka with a bullet in the back of the head.  This kind of precision strike was perfectly within the law because Stalin, a dictator, determined the KGB's version of 'due process.’  Liquidation of so-called high value targets (individuals) via a bureaucratically defined 'due process’ procedure lies at the center of the US counterterrorism strategy. 
Liquidation is a better descriptor than assassination, because the killing method is based on cold calculation and the targets executed are almost never recognized public officials. This arbitrary character of the US killing strategy is especially true for the detailed inferential procedures*, including those involving the active participation of the President, for identifying and selecting individual targets for termination in the drone strikes. As my longtime friend Jim Stevenson notes below the former Attorney General Eric Holder has gone so far as to justify this by claiming that Constitution only promises “due process,” not due judicial process, when American citizens are targeted for liquidation in the war of terror — the inference being that these complex target picking procedures constitute 'due process.’  
Stevenson’s essay explains why the Obama/Bush liquidation strategy raises fundamental questions of the Constitutionality and the rule of law that transcend the operational needs of the so-called war on terror.
————
* The “due process” of "signature targeting" procedures embodies a seductively dangerous form of algorithmic statistical reasoning, where it is assumed a subjectively determined set of “prior indicators” can used to determine the probability of individual being a legitimate terrorist target.  The problem posed by the likelihood of a mistaken identification (known as a “false positive”) is three fold: first, even if the statistical distributions of the priors could be accurately calculated, there is by definition always a probability of a false positive and an innocent person being unintentionally liquidated.  This is know antiseptically as collateral damage, and because we are at war, it is argued, collateral damage is a regrettable but necessary cost of doing buisness.  Second, because the prior indicators are subjectively determined (i.e., hypothesized), their probability distributions are unknowable and indeed have no meaning; therefore the probability of false positives is unknowable and has no meaning.  Third, human targets learn from experience and change their behaviour, making even relevant “prior” indicators irrelevant.  Yet the detailed, deliberative nature of the target selection procedure creates a seductive psychological impression of what Holder claimed is “due process."


Protecting American Citizens From Drones
by James P. StevensonAntiwar.com, May 14, 2015
[re-posted with permission of the author]
As America recently learned of the unintended deaths of its citizens from a CIA drone strike, it should reflect on the death warrant issued without due process for two other Americans, one that killed American citizen Anwar al-Awalki, a drone strike that ignored his Constitutional protections and took the life of another American citizen, his son.
When al-Awalki was killed in 2011, former attorney general Eric Holder was criticized for killing him without due process. In response, Holder educated the public that the Constitution promises due process but not judicial process. Additionally, by defining al-Awalki as an imminent threat, he said he could also rely on the government’s police powers to make a lawful killing. Obviously under some circumstances, government officials need to react quickly to kill without due process such as when a student begins shooting other students in school. But these kinds of exigencies were not present with al-Awalki.
The Caroline Test, an international legal test for an “imminent threat,” states that the threat must be “instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” This was not the case for al-Awalki. The government chased al-Awalki for two years in an attempt to kill him proving that as a threat he was far from imminent.
In addition to distorting al-Awalki’s imminence, the Department of Justice justified killing al-Awalki without judicial process by citing the Supreme Court decision, Mathews versus Eldridge, to justify its administrative due process hearing as a replacement for a judicial hearing.
 In fact, the Mathews case was about how much due process one is entitled to in administrative hearings on disability benefits. The Mathews case made it unambiguous that the greater the potential loss of rights, the greater the requirement for judicial as opposed to executive branch due process. Specifically, it said, “the degree of potential deprivation that may be created by a particular decision is a factor to be considered in assessing the validity of any administrative decision-making process.”
Amplifying the Mathews language, the Supreme Court wrote in the Hamdi case,
“‘Procedural due process rules are meant to protect persons not from the deprivation, but from the mistaken or unjustified deprivation of life, liberty, or property.’” Moreover, the Hamdi case emphasized that “‘the right to procedural due process is “absolute” in the sense that it does not depend upon the merits of a claimant’s substantive assertions.’”
Noting the irony in the government’s argument, the Supreme Court wrote in U.S. versus Robel, “[I]t would indeed be ironic if, in the name of national defense, we would sanction the subversion of one of those liberties . . . which makes the defense of the Nation worthwhile.”
Even in cases involving an enemy combatant, where the military wanted to shortcut the Constitution, the Supreme Court noted in Hamdi, “that a citizen-detainee seeking to challenge his classification as an enemy combatant must receive notice of the factual basis for his classification, and a fair opportunity to rebut the Government’s factual assertions before a neutral decision maker.”
Making a composite of these opinions we have to ask: If the Supreme Court takes the position that judicial process is required for an incarcerated citizen, wouldn’t it provide these same or greater safeguards when the executive branch of the federal government decides to kill a citizen when that citizen is not an imminent threat?
In spite of the executive branch’s attempt to minimize the role of the federal judiciary in wartime, the Hamdi court rejected the idea that war is an excuse to reduce due process to the equivalent of an administrative hearing. “[T]he position that the courts must forgo any examination of the individual case and focus exclusively on the legality of the broader detention scheme cannot be mandated by any reasonable view of separation of powers, as this approach serves only to condense power into a single branch of government.”
No doubt the military will claim that dropping ordnance from drones is more accurate than bombing from bombers, bombers that the military claimed during World War Two were accurate enough to drop a bomb into a pickle barrel. While it is true that drones are often more accurate than bombers, the drone program has been sold on it ability to minimize “collateral damage,” a euphemism for unintended deaths near the target that would be called manslaughter if a citizen did it.
Unfortunately, drones cannot distinguish an American from an Armenian, and as we’ve just learned, neither can the CIA. Furthermore, we have yet to hear that drones can drop ordnance into a pickle barrel. Indeed, we have no evidence of their accuracy. We do know that only thirty percent of American bombs dropped during 1943 landed within a 1,000 foot radius, a large pickle barrel indeed.
It is time for Americans to demand that the executive branch submit itself to the US Constitution that created it; call for federal courts to take note of the Supreme Court’s warning that the executive branch was attempting to “condense power into a single branch of government;” command congress to remain skeptical about drone results as well as determine if “collateral damage” is making us safer or increasing the number of terrorists; and demand that notice and an opportunity to be heard, fundamental to the Bill of Rights, remain sacrosanct.
James P. Stevenson is the former editor of the Navy Fighter Weapons School’s Topgun Journal and the author of The $5 Billion Misunderstanding and The Pentagon Paradox.